Advertisement

Archive for Wednesday, December 11, 1996

DOWNTOWN BOOKSTORE CLOSES ITS DOORS

December 11, 1996

Advertisement

As another Lawrence bookstore closes its doors, downtown customers, business owners and elected officials continue weighing the effects of national retail chains.

No more poetry readings. No more cafe miels. No more focus on African studies or gay and lesbian literature.

Terra Nova Bookstore, 920 Mass., is closing the book after 20 months under new ownership.

Facing the prospect of two new national bookstore chains opening in Lawrence next year, owners Brad Hebel and John Hastie decided to close up shop by New Year's Day.

"We're taking a positive, proactive risk now -- to save us economically and emotionally," Hebel said Tuesday morning. "There's no use standing around crying. It's over."

Borders plans to open a new 20,000-square-foot store next year at 700 N.H. Barnes & Noble has plans for a new shop near 31st and Iowa streets.

Both projects still need clearance from city officials, but Hebel sees that as a foregone conclusion. Adventure A Bookstore closed earlier this year, after hearing about Borders' plans.

"It's just a trend of turning everything into a commodity," he said. "Their business is money, and our business is selling books. We love books. We're booksellers. We didn't open this store to make money. We opened this store because we love selling books and providing books to the community.

"I think that's what's going to be lost."

David Longhurst, president of Downtown Lawrence Inc., said it was sad that another locally-owned downtown business decided to close but noted that the market dictated which businesses succeed or fail.

If Borders and Barnes & Noble decide that Lawrence is a viable market, it's best to have at least one downtown where it can attract shoppers to visit other stores in the central business district, Longhurst said.

"If Terra Nova didn't think there was sufficient sentiment to support their bookstore, that's their decision to make," he said. "You can't tell people where they can do business. That's something you just can't do."

Hebel and Hastie, who bought Terra Nova after working for an independent bookstore in Champaign, Ill., said they came to Lawrence because of its unique downtown.

That was before The Gap, McDonald's and Borders came onto the scene. They fear a Pottery Barn, Tower Records or Dillard's department store may be next.

"I don't know what attractiveness this city's going to have in three years," Hastie said. "It's going to be Everywhere, USA."

Hebel said Lawrence city commissioners were "misguided" in allowing Borders to locate downtown, because the new 20,000-square-foot bookstore actually would end up harming -- not helping -- downtown's unique character.

Not everyone agrees. Under current city policies and laws, the commission can't "discriminate" against national chains nor "subsidize" businesses owned locally, Mayor John Nalbandian said.

"I don't think it's the government's role to say how many bookstores should be in a city," Nalbandian said. "We make the rules. And if people want to change the rules, we can change the rules."

Gilisa Gould, a sophomore studying African studies at Kansas University, has played by the rules. She stops by the shop at least once a week for a double mocha espresso and quiet time to study, read or buy.

"I'm willing to give Terra Nova extra money, just to help them out, because they are my friends," she said, after buying a folklore collection by Nora Zeale Hurston.

Such devotion won't be enough to keep Terra Nova on firm financial ground, however. The store can't pay off its $84 account at a downtown office supply store until the end of the month, because its accounts are frozen at the bank.

In the meantime, Hebel and Hastie will continue to sell off what remains of their 30,000 books and magazines. Days are numbered for their espresso-latte-honey-and-vanilla cafe specialties. Today's 7 p.m. poetry reading will be the last.

"I'm depressed," said Bob McWilliams, a longtime customer who stopped by Tuesday to buy a novel and pay his respects. "I'm sorry for you, but I'm sorry for Lawrence even more. It feels like a death in the family."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.